Q&A with Shilpa Vir from Google
Meet the Manifesto Team!
Who are the 12 Product People that stepped up to form the Product Management Manifesto working group? Meet Shilpa!
Each week we’re introducing you to working group members with Q&A on their perspective on why a manifesto is so critical today.
This week’s spotlight is on Shilpa Vir, Product Lead at Google. Find out her thoughts on:
How Product Management has evolved
Key challenges that a manifesto must address
Why do we need a manifesto now
What’s motivating Shilpa
Shilpa Vir is a seasoned Product Management leader and Entrepreneur with a passion for delivering business results, and enthusiasm for doing the right thing for the customer. Shilpa has spent 15+ years leading Product, Engineering, and Operations teams at Google, eBay, Microsoft, HP, and Yahoo, in addition to working in early and mid-stage startups as well as founding 2 startups of her own. Shilpa takes pride in building solid relationships with key partners across many business domains and drives meaningful change by creating sustainable solutions that are scalable across the business. Shilpa currently serves as a Product Lead for Google workspace.
As a woman of color, the first female in her family to get a professional degree, and a first-generation immigrant to the US, Shilpa is an ardent supporter of empowering minorities and women in STEM. She leads the Women in Product (WIP) South Bay chapter, serves on the GHC Product Management committee for AnitaB.org and is involved in several community initiatives at Google. She gives back to the tech community through her career coaching business as well as hands-on workshops at various companies (NetApp, Yahoo etc.), events and conferences including 5 workshops at the Grace Hopper Conference in the past 5 years.
What is your favorite thing about working in Product?
My favorite parts about working in Product are connecting with actual users and collaborating with various functions in the company. Every time I collaborate with a cross-functional team, I learn a little more about their domain; it not only helps me become more knowledgeable about those domains but also helps me make better decisions and products. And my other favorite part is connecting with customers and understanding how we can build products that fit seamlessly into their lives and bring them value.
What drew you to this Product Management Manifesto and working group?
I saw it as a chance to contribute to something that was much bigger than myself and it was an honor to connect and work with some brilliant people in the industry. How have you personally seen the Product Management role evolve in your career?
What is one major challenge you see Product People grapple with frequently that our principles should address?
It is a popular notion that “Product Manager is the CEO of their product” and many people come to this discipline with the expectation that they would get to build products they want with the resources and timelines they want. And then they struggle because they have to influence the stakeholders and management to get alignment on their vision, strategy, and roadmaps. I believe that the Product Manager needs to think like a CEO, but most likely will not have the authority of a CEO over resources. That’s why they need to develop the muscle of “influencing without authority” if they want to be successful in this role and deliver great products to their users.
What are some of the reasons you feel a manifesto specific to Product Management is needed now?
Unlike other STEM disciplines, Product Management is relatively new and there isn’t much formal education available in the space. And there is unprecedented interest in Product Management these days as a career path. Creating a Product Management Manifesto gives us a chance to create a shared philosophy of how Product Management should be practiced and help build a framework that can guide many Product Manager aspirants and new Product Managers.
We’re in a critical moment for diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I). In what ways do you hope to see greater DE&I reflected in the work and contribution of Product People?
Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance. It is a great first step to ensure that a diverse group of people have access to the products we build but it’s even more important that the products we build cater to their diverse needs. For example, a camera that can take great pictures no matter what your skin tone is an inclusive product. So is the voice-enabled assistant that can understand people with different accents. And the best way Product People can build such inclusive products to serve the diverse needs of their users is to ensure they talk to and connect with many different users while validating their ideas and testing designs and not just hyperindex on the needs of a representative user.
Read next: The DE&I Duty Of Product People
When have you felt lost as a PM where principles could have helped you navigate that situation?
The PM principles would have been very helpful to me during my first formal job as a PM. I became a Product Manager unexpectedly when I interviewed with Microsoft for a software engineer position but got a Senior PM offer instead which means that I was expected to know what to do.
This was my first role as a Product Manager and despite the PM intuition that I had developed over the years, I did not know what formal Product Management was and what I was supposed to do exactly. So I leaned heavily on my technical background, worked hard and did well, but in hindsight I worked like a software architect and project manager, not as a Product Manager.
Once I realized the gaps in my knowledge, I started studying my husband’s MBA textbooks/material and set off on a quest to be the best Product Manager I could be. This is where the principles would have helped me a lot. My experience is probably not unique and the principles can guide any PM in a similar situation.
How will you personally use the Manifesto in your day-to-day?
Apart from using the manifesto to orient myself when feeling lost as a PM, I would use the manifesto as a resource that I will pass along to all my fellow PMs and aspiring PMs that come to my Product Management classes. The more widespread the adoption of the manifesto, the more we can promote a shared understanding of the job of a Product Manager.